As Steve walked out on stage to face the crowd in the most recent Apple event, I was quite excited to hear what he had to say. I had no idea what to expect from Lion and didn’t want to even venture too many guesses so that there would be more awe than disappointment at the new features.
However, as Jobs began to discuss the premise of Lion, the gears in my head started to spin. He explained that Apple had learned quite a bit about both hardware and software while developing their line of iOS devices. Several new technologies had arisen that were so amazingly successful that they couldn’t wait to bring them “back to the Mac.”
No Multi-Touch Mac This Time
Obviously, at this point everyone watching nearly gnawed off their own fingers waiting for Jobs to pull out a multi-touch Mac. Unfortunately, at several points throughout the day Apple employees made it a point to say that their touch-screen laptop prototypes simply weren’t working due to arm fatigue. In my opinion, the fact that multi-touch surfaces “want to be horizontal” as Jobs said, still leaves plenty of room for the swiveling iMac patent we’ve seen before, but I digress.
The point became clear: to incorporate technologies and lessons learned from the iPhone and iPad back into the current age-old Mac format. David Appleyard thoroughly outlined these new features in a follow-up article on Mac.AppStorm: more gestures via Magic Mouse/Trackpad, a home screen app launching system (Launchpad) and full-screen apps.
These are definitely great ideas and I can’t wait to see them incorporated into OS X. However, as I stared at that chart depicting technologies flowing from the iPad back to the Mac, I pictured the marriage of OS X and iOS to be much more complete. I looked over at my iPad and wondered what OS X would be like if this were one of my main input devices. What if some Mac applications and even OS X itself contained iOS counterparts that weren’t separate apps which occasionally synced, but were actually another aspect or view of the same app? Think Nintendo DS meets OS X.
How It Should Work
To see what I mean by all this abstract talk, let’s imagine a typical day in my futuristic iOS dream. You sit down in front of your iMac (the same non-multi-touch version you have now) and you launch Mail. A coworker has asked that you send him the latest draft of the project you’re working on. You keep the Mail window up on your Mac and launch a new Finder window on your iPad. It’s not a VNC-powered second monitor trick but an actual custom iPad remote interface to the Finder on your Mac. You find the file you want and swipe-toss it over to your iMac screen where it pops up in your Mail message.
Next, you tap the Safari shortcut on your Lion-iOS hybrid app and up comes Safari on your iMac. You scroll through Twitter for a while, command-clicking on several links to open them in different tabs in the background. You look down at your iPad where you now see a visual preview of all the tabs open in the background on your Mac. You swipe around and select one that looks interesting and your iMac brings it to the front.
Finally, you hop over to Adobe Photoshop to finish that website mockup. Your iPad then becomes a context-sensitive menu of options that has been ingenuously built to improve your productivity. At first it shows a big beautiful toolbar and a redesigned layers palette, both of which are much easier to use on a dedicated screen. As you grab a brush on your iMac and start painting, your iPad screen shifts to display all of the features normally found in the brushes palette, now reworked to be finger friendly.
The point that I’m trying to make is that there is a ton of untapped potential for using the iPhone and iPad as an input device that feels decades beyond even the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad. The infrastructure is already in place for the system to work just fine for anyone using a plain old mouse, Apple would merely be rewarding users who purchased iOS devices with some added bonuses.
Obviously, this would not merely fall into the realm of Apple. Third party developers would also have to get on board. It wouldn’t be ideal to constantly switch iPad apps so I picture one central remote app that supports downloadable third-party plugins.
Will This Ever Exist!?
Unfortunately, this is all a dream, though it could be a leaping off point for any developers that don’t want to wait for Apple to come up with a similar system.
Currently, HippoRemote Pro and Remote Buddy Ajax Remote are about as close as you can get. Both of these apps bring a lot of innovation to the table for controlling your Mac from an iOS device. Neither quite hits on the idea of rich, fully adaptive interfaces (most of the time they’re basically customized trackpads) but they’re a good glimpse into what it would be like to use your iOS devices in a way that actually integrates with your Mac workflow.
Leave a comment below and tell us about your ultimate vision of OS X Lion integrating with iOS. What great features would you take from the iPad or iPhone and incorporate them into OS X?